Saudi’s MBS and UAE led mediation in Brittney Griner’s prisoner swap, Middle Eastern nations claim

Saudi Arabia’s controversial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the president of the UAE, have claimed they led the mediation efforts that led to the release of basketball star Brittney Griner.

As Joe Biden told the world that Ms Griner had been releaed from Russia after 10 months of detention, in exchange for the return to Moscow of convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) claimed it had played a role in the negotiations that led to the swap.

Ms Griner, 32, arrived in the United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi by private plane from Moscow after her release by Russian authorities, a joint statement said.

At the same time, Mr Bout, a former arms dealer, came in on another private plane from Washington after being released by US authorities.

A senior Emirati official told CNN the exchange of Ms Griner and Mr Bout was done at Al Bateen airport in Abu Dhabi, which is an executive airport. Ms Griner took off at approximately 9am ET just after Mr Bout’s flight left.

“The success of the mediation efforts was a reflection of the mutual and solid friendship between their two countries and the United States of America and the Russian Federation,” the joint statement said.

It said the episode “highlighted the important role played by the leaderships of the two brotherly countries in promoting dialogue between all parties”.

Reuters said the decision was discussed when UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in October. They also spoke about it and other issues on a call Wednesday.

On Thursday, Mr Biden addressed the nation from the White House, accompanied by Ms Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner.

“After months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held in intolerable circumstances, Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones and she should have been there all along,” he said.

“This is a day we worked toward for a long time. We never stopped pushing for her release. It took painstaking and intense negotiations,” he added, thanking all those who involved in her release as well as the UAE, where the swap took place.”

In September, Saudi Arabia had scored an earlier diplomatic victory by securing freedom for foreign fighters captured in Ukraine, at a time of tension between Riyadh and Washington.

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Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both traditional US allies, are members of the OPEC+ oil producers alliance that includes Russia and have resisted Western pressure to help isolate Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

On the campaign trail Mr Biden had vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah nation” for its human rights records and its murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, something the US blamed MBS for ordering. The crown prince and Saudi Arabia has denied the claims

Experts said the mediation reflecteed efforts to show their ties with Russia are of benefit to Washington, which had accused Gulf oil producers of siding with Russia when OPEC+ agreed in October to cut oil output targets over US objections.

WNBA star Brittney Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, thanked Mr Biden for his administration’s efforts.

“So over the last nine months, you all have been so privy to one of the darkest moments of my life, and so today I’m just standing here overwhelmed with emotions, but the most important emotion that I have right now is just sincere gratitude for President Biden and his entire administration,” she said.